A jury Thursday found a Greenville man guilty on all charges in the brutal slayings of a married couple in 2012.
Judge John C. Hayes III sentenced 25-year-old Jonathan Donell Rhodes to three life sentences for convictions on two counts of murder and one count of first-degree burglary. The jury also returned guilty verdicts on two charges of kidnapping and four counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime in the stabbing deaths of Gary and Helen Wells.
Rhodes, prior to his sentencing, maintained his innocence in a brief statement to the court and the Wells family.
"The truth shall always manifest," Rhodes said. "So if y'all satisfied with me being found guilty, peace be upon you all. I'm sorry for the loss of your family. Nobody deserved to die like that."
Gary Wells, 78, and Helen Wells, 77, were found dead Oct. 3, 2012, at their home on Terramount Drive in Greenville. They each suffered dozens of wounds, including many that were inflicted postmortem.
Jake Erwin, Rhodes' attorney, said his client was not guilty of the murders in his closing argument Thursday and alleged the killer was Shirley Ann Rogers, the couple's ex-housekeeper. Solicitor Wilkins also alleged during the three-day trial that she was involved and was at the Wellses' home the night of the killings. Wilkins said after the trial that Rogers, 54, has not been charged because there's not enough evidence to take out warrants.
Rogers and Rhodes were in a relationship.
"One person couldn't stab one person 70 times while the other (victim) is just sitting there and then go brutally murder and stab them over 50 or 60 times or vice versa. It's impossible," Wilkins said during his closing argument. "You've got to have at minimum two people in that house committing these crimes."
In February 2013, Rogers pleaded guilty in federal court to aggravated identity theft and fraudulent use of Helen Wells' debit card in connection to that case. Prior to the Wellses' deaths, authorities have said Rogers was fired as housekeeper and told to stay away from the residence.
Wilkins said Rogers was the link connecting Rhodes to the Wellses. Wilkins characterized the double homicide as "violent" and "personal" in nature because of the significant number of postmortem wounds and a close-range gunshot to the face of Helen Wells.
"That's somebody who's got a beef — somebody who is upset, somebody who is mad," Wilkins said during his closing argument. "That is not a random character walking in there trying to steal some jewelry."
Rhodes chose not to testify in the trial. Erwin did not call any witnesses after the state rested its case.
The state used technology, a witness and science to link Rhodes to deaths of the Wellses. FBI cell phone analysis determined Rhodes' cellphone was in the area of the Wellses' residence, 10 Terramont Drive, on the night of Oct. 1, 2012. The Wellses' DNA was also found in several blood samples taken from a car Rhodes regularly used.
"The blood in the car and Jonathan's cellphone are two very powerful pieces of evidence," Wilkins said.
The solicitor also said it was telling that Rhodes deleted all of his messages to and from Rogers from his cellphone, along with photos of her, prior to meeting with law enforcement on Oct. 22, 2012.
Erwin said the prosecution didn't prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Erwin told the jury that there was no evidence that placed Rhodes at the scene. Neither Rhodes' DNA nor Rogers' DNA was found in samples from the house.
Erwin said "there were entire parts of the investigation" that the prosecution didn't want the jury to hear. Rogers was not called as a witness in the case. Erwin asked, in his closing argument, "Where is Shirley Rogers?"
"The person that killed the Wellses had a plan, was careful and cleaned up after themselves," Erwin said. "They knew the house. That is not Jonathan Rhodes."
Curtis McLeod, a fellow inmate with Rhodes, testified that he and the defendant discussed the double homicide, and Rhodes told him details during downtime working in the prison cafeteria earlier this year. Wilkins said McLeod's testimony Wednesday corroborated the circumstantial evidence in the case. McLeod knew Rhodes' roommate by name, knew that a MINI Cooper was driven to the scene, and knew the caliber of gun used.
"What he's saying has to be true, because what he said he couldn't know unless Jonathan Rhodes told him," Wilkins said.
The prosecution also entered into evidence a photo of Rogers on the morning after the killings, getting out of the car that had the Wellses' DNA inside.
Erwin said Rhodes was asleep at Rogers' home when the killings happened. He said it was clear that whomever killed the Wellses' was in the MINI Cooper shortly after the slayings.
"It's also clear that Jonathan's phone was at Terramont Drive when these murders occurred," Erwin said in his closing argument. "That does not mean that Jonathan was at Terramont Drive when these murders occurred. The car is not on trial. The phone is not on trial. Jonathan Rhodes is on trial."
The jurors deliberated for roughly three and half hours Thursday before returning their verdicts.
Erwin told the court during sentencing that Rhodes' mother has been in prison most of his life. Rhodes grew up in foster care and was the victim of sexual abuse, Erwin said. The defense attorney asked Judge Hayes for a sentence less than life.
Lane Wells Dye, one of the Wellses' daughters, addressed the court and Rhodes on behalf of the family. She said she was sorry about Rhodes' upbringing and asked him to cooperate with law enforcement to bring complete closure to the case.
"Right now, this is what's facing you for the rest of your life," she said. "And you have no one to blame but yourself."